The last time Kris Stephens shared a football field with the Belleville West Maroons, he was standing next to West head coach Cameron Pettus and sporting maroon and white on his matching golf shirt and visor.
Saturday afternoon, Stephens will watch the Maroons from the opposite sideline and wearing the colors of the cross-town Belleville East Lancers. He’ll be plotting a strategy to beat a ball-hawking West defense he helped craft during the last eight years as the Maroons’ top defensive assistant.
“It’ll be no more strange than seeing orange and black on the other sideline or red and black, or blue and yellow. Game day is game day,” said the first-year East head coach. “Both Cameron and I said it: 364 days out of the year we are going to be rooting for each other, but that one day we’re going to compete.”
This particular meeting of West and East leaves more on the line than the city bragging rights. Hot off their upset win over East St. Louis Saturday, the Maroons remain undefeated in Southwestern Conference play and would like to stay that way for their week 7 meeting with undefeated Edwardsville.
East fell in a shootout with Edwardsville last week and needs to win to stay in the SWC race. The Lancers face East St. Louis in week 7, if a contract settlement between the district and the teachers union allows the Flyers to take the field.
“Winning the conference absolutely means something,” Stephens said. “Outside of Chicago, this is the best conference in the state in every sport. If you can go through that meat grinder week in and week out and come out with a championship, it really says a lot about your program.”
SATURDAY’S GAME: Belleville West (3-2, 3-0) at Belleville East (3-2, 2-1), Saturday at 1 p.m.
LAST MEETING: The Lancers edged the Maroons, 23-21, in the fourth week of last season.
The Lancers have had no problem scoring points. Even after being held to three touchdowns by a dominating Edwardsville defense, East averages more than 38 points per game.
Senior quarterback Drew Millas is the unquestioned leader with 1,222 passing yards and 16 touchdown passes against just three interceptions. He throws to what may be the area’s best set of wideouts which includes Isiaih King (35 catches, 573 yards, 10 touchdowns), Quantavius Alexander (29 catch, 314 yards, TD), and Anthony Dean (17 catch, 157, 4 TD).
“Our defensive line is going to have to be at its best, we have to get penetration with the blitzes and we have to have great coverage. Those are the three things that we’ll have to do,” Pettus said. “They’ve got a lot of weapons. You can’t focus on one thing or one person.”
Running back Moses Hollman (77 rush, 373 yards, 4 TD) has been strong in place of injured starter Damone Witherspoon, who may be able to return this week. Witherspoon’s availability will be assessed at game time, Stephens said.
The Maroons are winning with a solid combination of offense, defense and special teams. All three had a hand in taking down East St. Louis. Junior safety Jack Lanxon (25 tackles, 2 fumble recoveries, 3 interceptions), who led the metro-east in interceptions last season, returned an interception for a touchdown, as did linebacker Kenneth Dixon (32 tackles, interception).
“Both teams match up really well,” Stephens said. “Both teams have good skilled kids on the edges and the lines are similar in size. If we can just keep their defense from scoring, I think we’ll be pretty good.”
The West offense is growing into a new identity under sophomore quarterback Logan Betz (51-of-102, 673 yards, 3 TD, 4 Int). A varied run game includes sophomore Kriston Davis (60 rush, 391 yards, 2 TD) and freshman Jarrell Anderson (39 rush, 201 yards, 2 TD, 16 catch, 232 yards, TD). Senior TeAntez Anthony is Betz’s main target at wide receiver (19 catch, 263 yards, TD).
UP NEXT: Belleville West plays host to Edwardsville at 7 p.m. next Friday; East will travel to East St. Louis, also at 7 p.m. Friday.